Designing a gansey cowl – Part 2

I’ve been swatching in the last few days to work out how to make a gansey-style cowl. You can think all you like about knitting, and sketch, and put figures into spreadsheets – I do all of that – but sooner or later you have to take up needles and yarn to see if all your planning is actually going to turn out as you want.

Having already decided that the centre of the cowl needs to be knitted longitudinally and then joined (the better to show off the stitch patterns), with garter stitch edge bands knitted in the round (that is, perpendicular to the centre section), the big decision that remains is:

  • do I pick up stitches from around each side of the finished centre piece and knit the edge bands outwards, or
  • knit the edges first and somehow join one to each side of the finished centre section?

The first option would be easiest – no need to calculate how many edge stitches are required first, picking up stitches is simple and neat, something most knitters do all the time without a moment’s thought, etc, etc.  But I have set my heart on having a Channel Island picot edge around each side of this cowl, which means the edge bands will need to start with the cast-on and be knitted inwards.

Gansey 14Which brings me back to the shoulder strap idea I floated last week, because if I knit the centre portion of the cowl between the two pre-knitted edge bands, picking up live stitches from those bands as I go, I should get a nice join which is even smoother and neater than picking up stitches and working outwards.  Instead of a shoulder strap that’s 3” wide and stretches from neck to shoulder, like the one on my gansey, I will be creating one that’s about 8”-10” wide and perhaps 45” long – a shoulder strap suitable for a misshapen giant.

Before I committed myself to this rather unconventional method of making a cowl (or indeed, of making anything other than a jumper with saddle shoulders) I swatched a “Channel Island bind off”.  This cast-off was unvented (an Elizabeth Zimmermann term) by Courtney Kelley, who like me wasn’t satisfied with a normal picot cast-off as a match for the beautiful, practical, 3-strand Channel Island cast-on.

While it would make life SO much easier to work the cowl’s edges outwards and then cast off using this knobbly technique, and it certainly looks a better than a picot cast-off, I’m not satisfied with it as an alternative to the Channel Island cast-on.  Let’s look at them side by side.

Channel Island cast-on

Channel Island cast-on

Channel Island cast-off

Channel Island bind off

No, it won’t do. So, next step, swatching a circular shoulder strap.

I knitted the edges first in yellow yarn, in the round – with an ordinary cast-on, life is too short to produce unnecessary picots. Then I knitted a stocking stitch tension square, working to and fro. My ratio of edge (garter stitch) stitches per inch to stocking stitch rows per inch was exactly 2:3, which made the maths a lot simpler than it might have been. I posted on how to design a shoulder strap when I was knitting my gansey – with a 2:3 ratio, you need to incorporate 4 stitches from each edge band per 6 rows row of the strap.  For the gansey, I made things simple by decreasing the “excess” stitches across each shoulder first, so that I could just work in one shoulder stitch at the end of every strap row (ie 1 stitch from each shoulder per 2 rows). I thought I’d try doing the decreases while working the strap this time around, by incorporating two shoulder stitches at the end of every third and fourth row of a 4-row sequence.

I knitted the strap in red yarn, after a provisional cast-on, so I could see what was what.  When I got back to the beginning, I was faced with this gap that needed to be Kitchener-grafted closed.

Gap needing graftingIt worked!

The gap grafted closedYou can see where I’ve worked the graft across the red section, but I’ve persuaded myself that’s because the trial cowl is knitted in unyielding acrylic that hasn’t been blocked, and I didn’t spend long tweaking the tension to perfection.

Close up of cowl join

A close-up of that join (and the in-the-round edge band)

I think the last few edge stitches on each side got a bit stretched when I was knitting the final rows of the strap, hence the small holes. I should be able to eliminate them when I come to make the gansey cowl by using an extra needle instead of dragging on the stitches waiting to be brought into play.  (Or I could just darn them closed, of course.)

I’m heartened by the fact that the edges lie smoothly without rippling and the join is not very obvious, even on this 2-colour, acrylic prototype.  A cowl made in one shade of pure wool, blockable yarn should look even better.

Right, now that I have proof of concept, I need to work out how many stitches I need and what patterns to work with them. A rough calc indicates that each edge band will be worked on over 250 stitches, which will take me forever to cast on if I remember my struggle with the Channel Island technique before. Better get going. Now, where was that YouTube video?

About yorkshirecrafter

I live and work in West Yorkshire.  I've always enjoyed crafts of all types, from woodwork to lace-making.  I also enjoy anything mathematical, which makes knitting a favourite pastime, especially complicated designs.  I've been advising businesses and industry on environmental matters for 30 years and also have an interest in green living, especially where it saves me money. I live with my husband and our Maine Coon in a 100-year-old cottage that constantly needs something doing to it.  Fortunately, I enjoy DIY too.
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